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Makin Waves with Well Wisher: Indie Intimacy
By Bob Makin
originally published: 10/05/2020
Asbury Park indie rockers Well Wisher dropped six songs in three singles this summer on Richmond, Va.-based 6131 Records. PHOTO BY HEIDI BRICKHOUSE
One of the most supportive national outlets of independent music is National Public Radio (NPR). When a Jersey band gets NPR exposure, it’s a big deal, and that happened this summer for the awesome Asbury Park outfit Well Wisher led by the multi-hyphenated talent of Natalie Newbold, formerly of the Makin Waves Award-winning band dollys. With her dollys band mate Erik Kase Romero, two-time winner of the Makin Waves Producer of the Year Award, Natalie recorded six acoustic songs as three singles, releasing them on Well Wisher’s Richmond-based label, 3161 Records, which dropped the band’s acclaimed debut album, “This Is Fine,” in 2018. NPR added the beautiful “Halfway Heart” to its New Music Friday Spotify playlist in early September.
The band -- also guitarist Lucas Dalakian (Ragged Lines, Romp), bassist Lynsey Vandenberg (Penniless Loafers), and drummer Matt Viani (Ragged Lines, Hunter Alive) -- swiftly followed that success with a well-received live stream from Asbury’s The Saint entitled “Well Wisher & Friends.” Heading into the studio soon to create their next album, Well Wisher took some time to answer the following questions about their history and activity in and out of the band.
Who are the members of Well Wisher, when and how did they join the band, and in what other bands have they been?
Natalie: The members of the band are Natalie Newbold (myself, formerly of dollys), Lucas Dalakian (Ragged Lines, formerly of Romp), Lynsey Vandenberg (formerly of Penniless Loafers), and Matt Viani (Ragged Lines and Hunter Alive). I started Well Wisher with songs that didn’t quite fit the dollys vibe in 2016, and after that band broke up the following year, it became my main focus. I was a huge Romp fan before they broke up and I always loved Lucas’ playing style. dollys and Romp had played a ton of shows together, and I knew Lucas was super fun to hang with, so he was one of the first people I thought to ask to be part of the project. After that, we went through a whole lot of lineup changes until Lynsey joined. Our mutual friend Eric Bennet told me that Lyns had just moved to Asbury Park from Jersey City and was an amazing musician and person. A Facebook message was sent and the rest is history! For a while after that, we had a rotating cast of drummers. Matt had filled in on our SXSW tour and brought such a great energy. We asked him to be our full-time drummer earlier this year, and even though shows aren’t happening, we are so stoked with what he’s brought to the new songs we are working on now.
Well Wisher at SXSW 2019. PHOTO COURTESY OF WELL WISHER
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Well Wisher were doing very well before the pandemic: touring nationally in support of label releases, prominently showcasing SXSW, making videos. What has it been like keeping the band vital and focused in 2020, and why has that challenge been worthwhile?
Natalie: At first, it was really hard to slow down, but we found other fulfilling projects that we could focus on. The week that NJ was shut down, I had just finished a collection of acoustics songs that I recorded with Erik Romero. We’ve been releasing those as singles with our label, 6131, all summer long. Live streams have also been really fun. We hosted one called ‘Well Wisher & Friends,’ and I’ve guested on a few. Last month we got to play a live-streamed show at The Saint, and that was a blast. For the past couple of months, we’ve also been doing extensive demoing for all of the new songs, and we couldn’t be more excited to get into the studio by the end of this year.
How did you record and release the six new songs?
Natalie: I recorded the acoustic singles with Erik Romero at the beginning of this year. Most of these songs were written for the band but didn’t quite fit in that arrangement. I decided to see the songs through and asked Erik if he would be interested in recording bedroom-style versions. We kept the arrangements very simple with only a few overdubs of anything else but guitar. With 6131. we decided to release the three singles throughout the summer!
What has the response to and impact of the songs been?
Natalie: The response has been incredible so far! ‘Walk Away’ and ‘Halfway Heart’ were both put on a bunch of Spotify playlists; most notably NPR’s New Music Friday. Even though the songs are very different from our full-band material, I am so happy they have been received so well.
What are Well Wisher’s future recording and release plans?
Natalie: We are very excited to be back in the studio over the next couple of months tracking for our second LP! It’s hard to say when these new songs will be out due to COVID, but we can’t wait to start tracking.
Natalie, comment on the impact former dollys bandmate and longtime friend Erik Kase Romero has had on you artistically, professionally, and personally.
Natalie: Erik and I have been friends for many years, and he has always pushed me to pursue music and my artistry. I’m so thankful that we’ve been able to collaborate and learn from each other for so many years. His tireless work ethic, creativity, and passion constantly inspire me to be a better person and artist.
Natalie, you recently worked on a very interesting project with Erik, directing the debut video for Light Sleeper’s ‘Poison Myself.’ The video is so simple yet so effective in conveying the bittersweet aspects of life and how it can be suffocating. What is the tale you are telling in that clip, how does it convey the message of the song, and how much chocolate sauce did you have to use to convey it?
Natalie: We actually used about half a bucket of water-based paint! Erik came up with the concept for the video, and I thought it was a perfect visual representation of the song’s title. For shooting, the crew was Erik, Lisa Romero -- Erik’s wife and official paint pourer -- and I. Once we got the lighting perfect and practiced a little, we had one shot to make it happen. I’m very happy with how the video came out!
Natalie, what inspired your interest in making music videos for other artists, have you done that before, will you do it again, and did this video fill a creative void caused by the pandemic?
Natalie: So apart from being a touring musician and songwriter, I am a graphic artist, photographer, and videographer. I’ve made all types of visual art and print design for my own bands, clients, and other projects over the years. I will definitely continue working on more videos in the future.
Are videos in the works for any of the six new Well Wisher songs, and, if so, can you provide any details?
Natalie: Right now we are in the planning stages for a video that would accompany one of the songs we are recording in the next couple of months, and that’s about all the details I can provide!
Okie Dokie Studio has helped Well Wisher and many other bands in a variety of ways. How has it impacted Well Wisher and why?
Natalie: My girlfriend, Jenna Murphy, is the chief content creator and owner of Okie Dokie Studio. I love working with her because she really takes the time to understand and help discover the best vision for our photos, videos, and art. She has an incredible sense of color and detail and strives to always put out the highest quality and realized art.
Natalie, are you involved in Okie Dokie Studios from a production standpoint?
Natalie: Jenna and I work together closely with a couple clients and love to collaborate on all different projects. I think we complement each other’s creative processes well.
Natalie, you are so diversely talented, playing drums, bass, guitar, among other instruments; directing and editing videos, and recording and producing music, and other visually artistic endeavors. What drives you to be so creative, and how and why does that bring you joy and peace?
Natalie: Thank you so much! From a very early age, I loved to create. I remember my mom signing me up for art classes as young as 4 and 5 and looking forward to it each week. I love the process of learning and growing creatively and always striving to better connect your vision and voice through art. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life, but the creative process, music and art, has helped me cope with my trauma.
Natalie, do you feel you share the joy and peace of creativity as a music teacher to young people at Lakehouse Music Academy?
Natalie: I feel like I do! I always try to make my students understand that we learn and practice technical skills as a way to express ourselves. Our skills are just tools to help us achieve our creative goals.
Natalie, do you think you’ll ever make a solo album in which you perform and record all the instruments yourself, like Lenny Kravitz, Liz Phair, or Paul McCartney?
Natalie: I like the idea of doing something like that as a challenging learning experience sometime in the future, but a big part of why I love making music with other people so much is in the collaboration of ideas. I always end up loving the parts I would have never thought of the most.
The proceeds from ‘Poison Myself’ are going to support social justice and civil rights. Ragged Lines delayed the release of their album out of respect for Black Lives Matter. I co-produced a women’s rights concert that was one of your first shows. And LGBTQIAP rights, as well as environmental justice, also are very important to Well Wisher. Can you comment on the direction you would like to see the United States go as a nation and society and why?
Natalie: So many issues come to mind, but first things first: we gotta get Trump out of office. Beyond that, I’d just really like people to stop and ask themselves how we can do better for everyone. CARE ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE. With so much political and social unrest, it’s obvious that there are systems in place that just don’t work, and beyond that, are causing great harm to different communities. Let’s focus on fixing the problems and uplifting the people who need it most.
Is there anything I didn’t ask on which you would like to comment?
Natalie: Thanks for taking the time to ask us some questions, Bob! Hope you and the fam are well and hope to see you at some shows in 2021!
Bob Makin is a reporter for USA TODAY NETWORK and the former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988.